Research and strategy
Identify companies you may wish to approach and the kind of opportunities they may be able to provide. In addition, brief yourself on the current issues in their industry. You should have a clear idea why you want to work in that industry, for that employer, and in that kind of role.
See our page on Research and preparation for more on this.
Once you have a shortlist of target employers, you need to identify key contacts within each one. LinkedIn can be your primary source of information, otherwise you may need to contact the employer directly.
If you have made contact through LinkedIn, look to develop a conversation establishing your interest in the company's activities. Your subsequent application will then be coming from an established contact. LinkedIn exists to facilitate this kind of conversation, so make full use of it.
Target your CV and covering letter
Employers may be happy to refer to your LinkedIn profile to assess your skills and experience. Others may wish to see a targeted CV and covering letter.
Use your research findings to tailor your CV and covering letter to each employer's business activities and recruitment priorities. You must present a strong case in persuading them to consider an application they haven't actively sought out.
This will require a lot of time and effort, but there is no alternative. Sending out a standard CV is a waste of your time and the employer's.
See our pages on CVs and interviews for more on this.
If your initial approach receives a clear rejection, it may be best to consider alternative employers. Where the employer's response is less definite then persistence might pay off.
Ask to arrange an advisory interview. This involves asking for advice on how to progress your career plans, rather than pitching for a job. You will have the opportunity to demonstrate your motivation in a way that a CV or online profile never could. A subsequent enquiry about possible work experience would then carry much more weight.
There are instances of employers routinely ignoring first approaches on the basis that genuinely interested applicants will always make a second attempt. Consider following up with a second CV submission and/or an email or phone call.
Plan ahead. If you are seeking a summer placement try asking to set up a short work trial between the autumn or spring terms. This involves less risk on both sides and is the best possible way to demonstrate your motivation and your potential.
Recruitment is a stressful process for both employer and applicant. Someone with any amount of prior experience, and who is known to the employer, is therefore a very strong candidate.